This week is a momentous one for our diocese for three particular reasons: (1) On Friday, I will observe the second anniversary of the announcement of my appointment as the 11th Bishop of Syracuse; (2) on Saturday, I will have the privilege to ordain our four deacons to the Ministerial Priesthood and the Order of Presbyter; and (3) on Sunday, as we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, the Diocese of Syracuse will resume observance of the sacred precept to actively participate in Holy Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.
Some may be surprised that I consider these things momentous (at least two of them maybe), but for me they all signify the working of the Holy Spirit in our life as Church, as a diocese, and as individuals. Just as the Solemnity of Pentecost excited me because of the power of God being poured out upon the Church and the human family, so this week God comes to meet and to minister to us via the Sacraments of Holy Orders and of the Holy Eucharist.
As I heard one homilist, a Passionist Father, say this past Sunday on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, “The Holy Trinity is not a mystery to be solved, but a relationship to be entered into.” He then went on to describe God as “personal and relational” and that this was sealed by “a kiss” — quoting the early Church Fathers, he stated that, “the Holy Spirit is the kiss between Father and Son.”
Now before we get too squeamish over such overt affection — is it not true that the Holy Eucharist itself is none other than God [who is Love] made flesh … made real for the life of the world? Is it not our gathering each Lord’s Day around his altar, his holy table, with the Priest Presider who is known as In Persona Christi Capitis, a sharing in the “kiss” of God’s love for you and me? In fact, the priest as God’s instrument invokes the Holy Spirit over the gifts of bread and wine, praying that they will become the very Body and Blood of Christ for the assembly.
Yet, you and I should not forget what those gifts of bread and wine represent — you and me! That is why I am particularly happy that the Offertory gifts can be brought forward again by the faithful. It is too easy to forget our own connection, our particular relationship with the Eucharist we celebrate each Lord’s Day. St. Augustine of Hippo instructs, “Believe what you see, see what you believe, and become what you are: the Body of Christ.” Even more, when we say “Amen,” we are saying “Yes!” That is why I think it is so important for communicants not to forget to say, “Amen!” In fact, I feel that I should not give a person the Body and Blood of Christ until they do so.
Again, the concretization of God’s love for the human family is the heart of the Eucharist and of the Ministerial Priesthood. St. John Vianney would declare, “The heart of the priesthood is the heart of Christ.” Going a step further, before you and I approach the altar for Holy Communion, the community is instructed to share the “kiss of peace” with “those around us.” In this moment the admonishment found in Matthew 5:24 is meant to be in our thoughts: “Go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
Again, this very act of the sign of peace speaks volumes of our disposition and our personal conduct that needs to be examined prior to our approaching Holy Communion. Yes, God wants to share His very self, His very love, with you and me, but how is God and God’s love to be seen in our lives, and indeed, in our actions?
This Saturday, in the ordination homily, I will speak to those being ordained about “integrity of life.” The word “integrity” is defined in this manner: (1) the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness; and (2) the state of being whole and undivided. Words associated with “integrity” are honesty, honor, morals, righteousness, decency, fairness, sincerity, truthfulness, and trustworthiness.
Certainly, we are looking for these attributes in our ordained priests, but they are actually meant to be found also in all who share in the reception of Holy Communion. All of us with our different gifts and vocations make up the Mystical Body of Christ in the world today.
St. Teresa of Avila would speak of this calling when she wrote:
“Christ has no body now but yours
No hands, no feet on earth but yours
Yours are the eyes through which He looks
Compassion on this world
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good
Yours are the hands with which He blesses all the world
Yours are the hands
Yours are the feet
Yours are the eyes
You are His body
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
This reflection leads me to the third event I call to mind this week: my own appointment as Bishop of Syracuse. It goes without saying that a lot has happened in the last two years and there is more ahead of us. However, what sustains us — you and me — is the Holy Eucharist. It has been and continues to be my strength as I seek to live out the commission to shepherd the People of God in this portion of the Lord’s vineyard. I know it also to be both the action and the sustenance that will help our diocese, whether in the Mohawk Valley or the Southern Tier or the Salt City, to grow as the Body of Christ.
The challenge I give to myself, the challenge I will give to our new priests, and the challenge I give to each member of our diocesan family at each Mass is: “See what you are and become what you see!” A priest in the Orthodox tradition described this encounter in the following manner: “The people who will receive the Gifts are also set apart. For whoever receives the Holy Gifts touches the Divine God — they are set apart from others. And receiving the Gifts should set us apart from others. This experience should motivate us to be different. It should motivate us to be God-centered people, rather than self-centered people.”
And the people said: “Amen!”